Friday, 21 September 2012

US farm law to expire, House Republicans split on food stamps

The U.S. farm law, which funds a broad array of agricultural support programs as well as food aid for the poor, will expire on Sept. 30 due to a deadlock in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.

Speaker of the House John A. Boehner, a Republican under pressure from conservative members of his own party, pulled the bill Thursday. He said the House "will deal with the farm bill after the election," the same words that now apply to a list of other measures.

The Democratic-controlled Senate passed a farm bill, but conservative Republicans say it allocates too much money to food stamps, which help poor families purchase food.

The development was a personal defeat for Boehner and an illustration of his lack of influence with more conservative members aligned with the "Tea Party" movement.

Congressional analysts see little immediate financial impact from expiration of the $500 billion measure.

Food stamps and most conservation programs would stay in operation. Eventually--but not now--dairy and crop subsidies, export promotion, biofuel and foreign food aid programs would run out of money. Cornell University experts say some long-term agricultural research projects would suffer too.

Most of the subsidy programs involve small amounts of money these days because commodity prices are so high. Subsidies won't matter much until harvest time.

The potential political fallout in farm states, however, produced another round of finger pointing as members sought to shift the blame to others.

The Senate passed a farm bill and the hang-up is in the House, where conservative Republicans want larger cuts in the farm program while Democrats object to a $16 billion reduction food stamps, the largest cut in the nutrition program in a generation.

The Democratic-controlled Senate refused to consider a short-term extension of the bill, the traditional way to bridge disagreements.

"The House of Representatives should be ashamed of themselves for leaving town without supporting rural America," said Debbie Stabenow, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. "Ten days until the farm bill expires and 15 million people in this country who rely on agriculture for their jobs are put in jeopardy."

She later told reporters, "I'm sure this will be an issue for many people in the fall election."

Without a new farm bill, the farm program would revert to the disastrous terms of the 1949 "permanent" farm law, written for an era of endless crop surpluses and crushingly low prices -- the opposite of today's tight supplies and volatile prices. The Obama administration raised the threat of sky-high support prices and production controls as leverage to get a new law.

Farm-state lawmakers and lobbyists said the political landscape, and the likely shape of the farm bill, will be clearer after the Nov 6 election.

"It is crystal clear that Republican leadership is taking the farm bill hostage," said president Roger Johnson of the 300,000-member National Farmers Union. Johnson said "the farm bill might become a pawn" when budget cuts are needed later in the year.

In August, President Obama blamed Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan and other GOP House leaders as obstacles to the farm bill. Ryan is House Budget Committee chairman and has called for cuts in food stamps and other farm bill programs.

"By mid-summer, everything becomes political anyway," said Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, when asked if lack of a farm bill would hurt Republican lawmakers.
Original Article Here

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